London : The chairman of a British parliamentary committee says the Labour government has been slow in tackling postal ballot fraud – thought to be practised among the Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities – because of fears it might cost them votes.
Speaking ahead of just-ended local government elections in England and Wales, Tony Wright, chairman of the Labour-controlled Public Administration Select Committee, said reluctance to root out electoral abuse risked compromising “the integrity of democratic politics”.
“Almost all the abuse cases that we have had have involved minority communities. We should not be mealy-mouthed about it. It is importing cultural practices from one place to another, and if we are serious about Britishness, surely one of the things we have got to be serious about is telling everybody that lives here about the integrity of democratic politics,” Wright said.
“If we are honest about it, we have been so anxious to get turnout up that we have been rather casual about some of the implications … I think we have (been) casual because we have resisted individual voter registration,” he added.
The Guardian newspaper reported Monday the committee is likely to demand the introduction of some form of individual registration, which would require photo ID.
The committee believes ministers have been resisting change for three years despite calls from the Electoral Commission to tighten procedures to prevent identity fraud.
Individual voter registration, already in place in Northern Ireland, was one of the key recommendations made last week by the pressure group Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust in a report highlighting anecdotal evidence of the existence of a ‘biraderi system’ in Britain, where patriarchs of clans mobilised votes in favour of a certain candidate.
It named Pakistanis and Bangladeshis as two communities which played a role in such abuse, which it said was contributing to postal ballot abuse.
One Labour member of the committee, Kelvin Hopkins, told The Guardian: “I hesitate to say this, but one of the reasons our party is reluctant to do this, is because it might actually dent our support in certain areas.”
Hopkins represents the Luton North constituency – home to a large population of ethnic Pakistanis.
Another Labour member, Gordon Prentice, said in one particular instance in his constituency there are 27 voters registered in one address, “which begs the question who the head of household is, who signed the form that certified the other 26 are legally entitled to vote”.
The paper quoted Conservative member Charles Walker as saying: “In many parts of this country, it is one man, one woman, three or four hundred votes.”
However, Justice Minister Michael Wills told the select committee: “The idea that we are just shrugging our shoulders, saying it does not matter, it belongs to that community, this community, is not true. It is fraud.”